Donald Trump’s first year in office will be remembered in this country as a nightmare of national debasement, a time during which the worst America has to offer was on open display: immigration roundups and white supremacist rallies, plutocratic tax policies and oil drilling in the Arctic, nuclear brinkmanship with North Korea, and a US-backed war against Yemen. The frightful headlines, the garbage hot takes, the nonstop onslaught of official lies are so consuming and absolute that they start to feel normal, which is the worst feeling of all.
But winter’s rituals—the New Year, the solstice, Star Wars—remind us that most things are redeemable, that there’s mercy in the universe, that time passes and change is possible. Institutional corruption can be snuffed out, and tyrants can be toppled. Trump won’t be in power forever, and the far right’s ascendance will meet a countervailing force. In fact, that force is already taking form.
If this past year was a fever dream of desperation and demoralization, it was also a year of insurrection and revitalization. There were so many hopeful moments, so many promising progressive victories, so many important populist movements, that a full accounting isn’t really possible. One fact, though, emerges from the churn quite clearly: Cities helped lead the way. It was in the local municipal arena where the left made its most ferocious stand.
From Salt Lake City to Seattle, from Austin to Oakland, from New Orleans to New York, a rising popular front used urban spaces to defend immigrants, fight for rent control, combat racist inequality, promote clean and renewable energy, and elect a new cohort of leftist politicians, among other achievements.
With their vibrant diversity and histories of struggle, cities large and small were the seedbeds of a more just and decent country this past year. While progressives enjoyed little power at the state and federal levels, in cities they deepened their roots and flourished, building a moral and material bulwark against Trumpism. Thanks to leaders like San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who grabbed her bullhorn and shouted boldly into it, city dwellers articulated some of the fiercest opposition to the daily cruelties propagated by madman in the White House.
Now, as we head into a new year of resistance, our urban areas will continue to be fierce places where local leaders and activists transform organizing meetings into full-scale movements, where bold ideas become law, where marches and sit-ins and struggles ultimately succeed. Despite the incessant Trump-induced anxiety, there’s something electrifying, something hopeful, happening in this country, and it is happening above all in our cities.
Renters of the World, Unite!
Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s powerful socialist city councilwoman, sees a gestating “mood of revolt” in America’s urban centers. It’s a revolt born from towering rents, grievous gentrification, and the continued scourge of eviction, which impacts hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of renters each year.